Hey, Salad Lovers: It's OK To Eat Romaine Lettuce Again : The Salt The romaine that sickened 172 people in 32 states came from Yuma, Ariz., and is likely completely gone from the food supply. What's now for sale is from California.
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Hey, Salad Lovers: It's OK To Eat Romaine Lettuce Again

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Hey, Salad Lovers: It's OK To Eat Romaine Lettuce Again

Hey, Salad Lovers: It's OK To Eat Romaine Lettuce Again

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

So if you've avoided romaine lettuce due to an E. coli outbreak, you can start buying again. The CDC had said for weeks, toss out romaine grown in the Yuma, Ariz., region. But there are no more greens coming from there. Growers in California are now shipping fresh supplies. Here's NPR's Allison Aubrey.

ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: In late March, officials at the state Health Department in New Jersey detected an increase in E. coli illnesses. And when they interviewed people who'd gotten sick, many said they'd eaten chopped romaine salads. The CDC's Laura Gieraltowski says New Jersey was quick to share the information.

LAURA GIERALTOWSKI: When they reached out to CDC, we looked into our surveillance system and saw that we have E. coli illnesses with the same DNA fingerprint from other states.

AUBREY: And similar reports from people who said they'd eaten romaine. At that point, the FDA began a trace back and determined that the contaminated lettuce was grown in the Yuma region. But investigators could not nail down an exact source.

GIERALTOWSKI: Unfortunately, they weren't able to get it back to a single supplier or distribution center or even a single farm. And so that's why we kept our messaging broad.

AUBREY: The CDC's announcement in mid-April to avoid romaine from Yuma brought chaos to Taylor Farms, a large salad producer with operations in both Arizona and Salinas Valley, Calif. Here's Taylor Farms' Drew McDonald.

DREW MCDONALD: It blindsided us, as you can imagine. And immediately, a number of customers called.

AUBREY: McDonald says his company took action right away.

MCDONALD: Immediately, we stopped all shipments of romaine coming out of the desert.

AUBREY: McDonald says the industry was right in the middle of its seasonal transition. The harvest season was winding down in Arizona and just starting in California. The week the CDC issued its warning, Taylor Farms had just begun to harvest and ship out greens grown in their California fields. There's no contamination linked to these greens, but people were confused. How were consumers supposed to know where their greens were coming from?

MCDONALD: It was easier, in many cases, for our customers just to stop romaine.

AUBREY: After talking to customers, McDonald says he's been able to reassure them. After a big foodborne illness outbreak linked to baby spinach back in 2006, the leafy greens industry put in place a bunch of procedures to prevent contamination, such as rigorous water testing. And the safety record has improved.

MCDONALD: I want to assure the North American public that the romaine coming out of Salinas Valley is the safest in the world.

AUBREY: Investigators still don't know what happened in the Yuma region. But now that the lettuce is likely completely out of the food supply, the CDC's Laura Gieraltowski says...

GIERALTOWSKI: Well, you know, we hope people can enjoy their romaine lettuce again.

AUBREY: But she says investigators will continue to try to nail down the source of the bacteria that sickened 172 people.

Allison Aubrey, NPR News.

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